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    Published on: October 21, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    I drove over to Bellevue, Washington, from Seattle the other day, because I wanted to see one of the new Microsoft stores.  I’d been hoping to visit the new one scheduled to open in University Village this week, but I was a couple of days early, and so had to settle for the one that has been open for more than a year in the Bellevue Square Mall.

    When I found it, I was impressed.  Lots of glass, flat tables with products to play with, tablet computers, smart phones, computers, the whole shooting match.  Even a counter in the back to get expert help, and enthusiastic employees in t-shirts ready to help the customers.  It looked very familiar - like the only thing it was missing was the image of an apple with a bite taken out of it.

    Except for the fact that there were hardly any customers, it would have been perfect. (See pictures above.)  Instead of being a hub of activity, it was instead cavernous.  I actually sort of felt bad for the folks working there.  They just seemed...lonely.

    When I left the Microsoft Store, I noticed that just a few stores down, there was a line.  I didn’t know for what, but I decided to check.

    Go figure.  It was an Apple Store.  (I am not being disingenuous here.  I hadn’t noticed on the mall map that there was an Apple Store nearby.)

    There was a line of 10, 12 people, waiting to get in to buy the new iPhone 4S.  Inside the store - which is one of the smallest Apple Stores I’ve seen in a while, perhaps one third the size of the nearby Microsoft Store - it was crowded with activity.  So crowded, in fact, that some of the Genius Bar personnel seem to have commandeered tables and chairs at a nearby cafe and were helping customers there.

    (See pictures below, taken just 60 seconds after the pictures of the Microsoft Store were taken.)

    Now, I want to be fair about this.

    Apple has the new iPhone 4S, which is selling like gangbusters.  That accounts for the line, and at least some of the crowding inside the store.

    Microsoft didn’t have that sort of new product on the day I visited, so it was working at a disadvantage.  Plus, coverage of the opening of the new Microsoft Store in University Village later in the week suggests that there were plenty of crowds in attendance.  So it isn’t like Microsoft can’t attract a crowd.

    For the purposes of this discussion, I don’t even want to entertain the notion that Microsoft suffers because Apple has managed to corner the market on cool, innovative, user-friendly technology.  That may be the case, but it most likely isn’t forever, and besides, it reflects my pro-Apple bias.  So let’s get past that.

    Here’s what I was thinking as I gazed at the two stores...

    If Microsoft had come to me several years ago and asked me how best to create a retail environment that could compete with Apple’s growing fleet of stores, I have no idea what I would have suggested.

    But I’m pretty sure that I would have recommended that it not build what the company eventually built - simply because it looks pure and simple like a “me, too” offering.

    It does not look like the designer had an original thought - except maybe for darker table tops and a place for leather lounge chairs near the X-Box display, for which there is plenty of room because of the lack of customers.

    Again, I have no idea what alternative I would have suggested.  But it is hard for me to imagine that a savvy store design expert could not have come up with something that is not so clearly derivative.

    To me, this was an Eye-Opener.  You have one of the most successful companies on the planet, one that has created technological products that have helped to change the world, and the best it could do to tell its story is create a clone.  Instead of inspiring me to switch to Microsoft products, it simply made me yearn for the real thing by finding an Apple Store.

    Microsoft hardly is alone in such an approach.  True originality, just like real innovation, is uncommon.

    But I’ve rarely seen such a clear case of a company going for a secondhand solution when it should have been reaching for new heights.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    PORTLAND, OR. -- The strategies and tactics being used by two very different companies were on display yesterday in two presentations offered at Portland State University’s Food Industry Leadership Center (FILC) 2011 Executive Forum.

    One was a global coffee retailer with the stated intention of doubling its size through the expansion of its CPG business; the other was a local supermarket chain on the verge of opening its eleventh store. But both are focused on paths to sustainable growth.

    Let’s start with the supermarket retailer. Lisa Sedlar, the president/CEO of New Seasons Markets, talked about the importance of “taking the long view,” and “not making decisions based on quarterly profit. I’m not cavalier about profit, but we want to take the long view.”

    Sedlar said that New Seasons has a bottom-up culture, and she said that she was proud of the fact that the company had no layoffs during the recession of 2008-2009 - largely because employees had helped her adjust staffing levels to reduce costs. “I asked the staff for help,” she said, and people volunteered to work fewer hours and even change stores if it would help keep everybody employed through tough times.

    The relationship is symbiotic. Staffers act with a sense of ownership, and the company offers a minimum wage of $10 per hour, provides a high level of affordable health care coverage, and shows a real commitment to community engagement and local sourcing.

    “As some companies grow, their culture often becomes less robust,” Sedlar said, noting that maintaining New Seasons’ cultural priorities is one of her most important goals. That means a decentralized approach to management, because “even though it increases complexity, “it is worth it.”

    One other note. Sedlar did something that I cannot recall ever hearing a retailer do before. When she talked about shoppers, she often referred to them as “eaters,” as in “eaters can relate to food that tastes better.” Which strikes me as an important distinction ... and a good way to maintain focus on the unique relationship between food stores and their customers.

    The other company was Starbucks, represented by Jeff Hansberry, president of Global CPG and Foodservice, which means, he said, “everything beyond the third place...across channels, countries and categories.”

    Hansberry pointed to two ways in which Starbucks’ growth is going to fueled in coming years. One is the expansion of its single serve business, which was ignited by the introduction of its Via instant coffee product, which exploded into a $200 million business within a year of being launched; this side of the business is expected to get another big boost next week, when Starbucks coffee becomes available for brewing in Keurig single-cup coffee machines.

    In addition, Hansberry said, the expansion of Starbucks’ CPG business - into categories where the company can maintain its reputation for having a premium offering that is consistent with the Starbucks experience - is a major initiative that will help reshape the company in organic ways while always maintaing the core value of being “the coffee authority.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    The New York Times reports this morning that “after trying to mollify its critics in recent years by offering better health care benefits to its employees, Wal-Mart is substantially rolling back coverage for part-time workers and significantly raising premiums for many full-time staff.

    “Citing rising costs, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, told its employees this week that all future part-time employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for any of the company’s health insurance plans.

    “In addition, any new employees who average 24 hours to 33 hours a week will no longer be able to include a spouse as part of their health care plan, although children can still be covered.”

    The company has not revealed what percentage of its workforce would be affected by these changes, and the Times notes that “this is a big shift from just a few years ago when Wal-Mart expanded coverage for employees and their families after facing criticism because so many of its 1.4 million workers could not afford or did not qualify for coverage — rendering many of them eligible for Medicaid.”

    Greg Rossiter, a Walmart spokesman, tells the Times, “Over the last few years, we’ve all seen our health care rates increase and it’s probably not a surprise that this year will be no different. We made the difficult decision to raise rates that will affect our associates’ medical costs. The decisions made were not easy, but they strike a balance between managing costs and providing quality care and coverage.”

    The Times writes that Walmart says the change in policy is not related to mandates in the new federal health care law.

    Walmart has been struggling in recent quarters, suffering through nine consecutive periods in which it had stagnant or declining US same-store sales. While it expects the current quarter to end this less than illustrious streak, the company remains under pressure to improve its performance.
    KC's View:
    It is worth noting here that as Walmart was cutting health care coverage, both Lisa Sedlar, CEO of New Seasons Markets, and Jeff Hansberry, Starbucks’ president of Global CPG and Foodservice, each made the point to their separate presentations at Portland State University how important it was to maintain high levels of employee health care coverage, even in hard times - that this was a core value from which their companies would not waver, no matter what.

    No matter what. Three words that they apparently don’t know down in Bentonville.

    However ... I will say that there is one change being made by Walmart of which I do approve. The Times reports that “Wal-Mart’s new health offerings will require many employees who smoke to pay a significant penalty. They will be required to pay an extra $10 to $90 each pay period — $260 to $2,340 a year — if they want health coverage.

    And Rossiter defended the penalty, saying, “Tobacco users generally consume about 25 percent more health care services than non-tobacco users.”

    I will be accused of being heartless. But I think that people ought to have skin in the game. And as long as Walmart is willing to help fund smoking cessation efforts (and this is not clear in the report), then I think it is appropriate that smokers pay more.

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    The Washington Post reports that a panel of experts from the Institute of Medicine has “told federal regulators that the epidemic of diet-related chronic diseases warrants a single rating system to help consumers sort through nutritional information.”

    The experts devised a system that it says is easy enough for even kids to use, the Post writes: “Under the panel’s plan, products would be graded in three categories — added sugar, sodium and fats. If the sodium level is acceptable, for example, the product would get a point (or check mark, or maybe a star). The same goes for the added sugar and fats, for a maximum of three points or symbols for each product.

    “Some products may earn no points. For instance, a sugary soda may have low levels of sodium and fat, but it would not be eligible for points because of its high sugar content, the group said. Also, the calorie count would have to be displayed in familiar measures, such as ‘per cup’.”

    The Post notes that “the food and beverage industry, which launched its own labeling initiative this year, immediately resisted the plan, arguing that consumers do not want the government to interpret information for them.”
    KC's View:
    It seems entirely fair to me that at this point, we ought to give the front-of-package system created by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) - supplemented by programs like Nuval and Guiding Stars that have been adopted by individual companies - a chance to work before we start looking for government-imposed programs.

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    The News & Observer reports that all five Whole Foods store in the North Carolina Triangle stopped accepting checks this week “in order to limit the amount of customer information the grocer collected and to increase checkout speed, said Whole Foods spokeswoman Teresa Jones. The policy is already in place at many of its 300 U.S. stores.”

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) says that this is not reflective of a broader trend, and that in fact retailers would rather get cash or checks because they receive 100 cents on the dollar, as opposed to less money that they get when the customer uses a debit or credit card.

    But while retailers may prefer checks to credit and debit cards, that runs counter to what consumers want. According to the story, “last year, just 5 percent of consumers reported that writing a check is their preferred method of retail payment, down from 11 percent in 2005 and 18 percent in 2001, according to a study by BAI Research and Hitachi Consulting.”
    KC's View:
    I cannot even remember the last time I wrote a check for anything - almost every payment I make is via a debit card or through direct online payments from my bank. But the truth is that all the publicity about hidden swipe fees and debit card usage fees has me reconsidering this approach ... and I wonder to what extent we might start to see a resurgence of check writing, especially if companies can promote the benefits.

    On the other hand, if convenience is the prime motivator, the Whole Foods approach won’t get any blow back.

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    Heartland Payment Systems is out with data suggesting that since the imposition by the federal government of limits on hidden swipe fees charged by banks issuing debit cards, for every $100,000 of Visa and MasterCard volume processed, consumers and merchants saved an average (across all states) of $260.24.

    According to the press release, “The per-store savings peaked in Washington, D.C., where consumers and merchants saw savings of $333.94 per store, while Montana retailers saw the lowest savings — $127.87. The state-by-state variance is a result of the number of large versus small banks in the area as well as the mix of credit-debit card volume processed (the totals do not include the impact of PIN debit volume) ... The savings calculated by Heartland reflect lower swipe fees, not actual savings per merchant, since competition typically dictates that cost savings are passed on to customers.”
    KC's View:
    If you want to see the state-by-state breakdown, click here.

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that the South African government is urging that nation’s Competition Appeal Court to essentially disallow the acquisition by Walmart of 51 percent of Massmart there for the equivalent of $2.4 billion (US).

    This is the second legal challenge mounted to an acquisition that closed more than three months ago, with Walmart taking over operational authority at Massmart while at the same time committing $15 million (US) to a supplier development fund and agreeing not to cut any jobs for two years and honor existing labor agreements for three years.

    According to the story, “‘The question before court is whether the merger can or cannot be justified on public-interest grounds,’ Wim Trengove, the government’s senior counsel, told the court today. ‘The tribunal erred’ by failing to place the onus on the companies to prove they wouldn’t increase imports and destroy jobs.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    eMarketer.com is out with an estimate that “23 million US moms are on Facebook this year—a figure that counts women with children under 18 in the household who use the site at least once each month. That represents well over two thirds of all online moms in the country. Overall, eMarketer estimates that just 57.1% of internet users (including children) use Facebook monthly.”

    And, the story goes on: “Facebook, of course, is not the only social networking site moms use. Overall, 26.5 million mothers with kids in the home use social networks at least once per month, or 79.2% of online moms. This compares to 63.7% of internet users overall.”

    What this means is that as a percentage of users, Facebook and social media in general have higher penetration numbers among moms than internet users in general.
    KC's View:
    Which is sort of remarkable since it does not seem like so long ago that many people thought that the internet was male domain, or a kids’ domain. But now it is dominated by women, who are using these social media vehicles, in part to talk to each other about goods and services.

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    • The Durango Herald reports that the Durango Natural Foods Co-op has decided to begin labeling all products “that are free of genetically engineered ingredients.” As the story notes, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require the labeling or tracking of such foods, so natural grocers and nonprofits across the country have decided to take up the cause themselves.”

    • The Associated Press reports that some supermarkets have decided not to stock the new Ben & Jerry’s limited edition ice cream - Schweddy Balls, which is a reference to an old Alec Baldwin skit on “Saturday Night Live.”

    Only about a third of US supermarkets that carry Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are carrying the product, the story says, though none of them are saying whether they are bowing to pressure from the One Million Moms group that has been threatening boycotts.

    Ben & Jerry’s says that Schweddy Balls is the most popular limited edition ice cream it has ever produced.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    • The Campbell Soup Co. announced that it has hired Joshua Anthony, most recently Director-Global Infant Category Research & Development for Bristol-Myers Squibb/Mead Johnson Nutrition, to be its new vice president, Global Nutrition and Health.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    We continue to get a ton of email about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some people think that the protesters are self-indulgent, entitled whiners who simply want a handout; I’ve suggested that the reality is more complicated than that, and that “compassion ought to be our default position,” even if the protesters have not done a great job to this point in establishing their narrative and goals.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I sometimes find it laughable when baby boomers – which it appears all of the users that wrote in response to the young 99% protester are – try to chastise our generation as lazy, dumb, self-entitled whiners. What gets me the most is that some of our current economic problems transpired from their GREED. Greed to invest in multiple houses and flip them for a quick profit. Greed to tap into their home equity to buy boats and BMW’s or go on fancy vacations when their house prices skyrocketed – prices that were inflated by the greed of realtors’ commissions and the entire real estate industry. Greed in stock options, credit-default swaps, etc.

    While it’s not fair to blame these events on ALL baby boomers, so it is not fair to criticize younger people trying to better themselves in today’s economic climate. NO ONE can argue that today’s job market is harder than it’s ever been for a baby boomer in their lifetimes. I met my wife in college, where we graduated from school with a combined $30k in student loans 6 years ago. However, with a strict budget that includes a mortgage and 2 car payments (because we need reliable transportation for our long commutes) we have cut the debt in half.

    Yes, we’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to have jobs since we graduated. But my wife started as a secretary making $10 an hour, and has worked her way up in the same company for the past 7 years to a high level sales executive. The only reason I obtained my job was because I had 3 years of retail management experience and 7 years overall in retail, because I WORKED 50+ HOURS A WEEK WHILE GOING TO SCHOOL FULL TIME, SUPPORTING MYSELF AND PAYING AS MUCH AS I COULD TOWARDS COLLEGE. I’m so tired of being called lazy by greedy middle-agers and their cushy six figure jobs. Owning your own business is the way to go, and something I have much respect for across all ages and aspire towards one day. The current corporate scene is all about GREED, getting patted on the back, and everyone looking out for #1, in all but a few select companies. In my opinion, THIS is what the 99% stand for.

    On top of this, I’ve seen my current company decrease its staff by more than HALF, even though sales have only been down slightly. Meanwhile, the remaining workers are doing double the work for the same pay, while the company has doubled its profits! And I’m still making only slightly more than I was when I was hired out of college 5 years ago. How can one remain positive in these types of conditions?


    But another MNB user wrote:

    What strikes me about the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is the attitudinal change over time.  My early Baby Boomer generation grew up with the attitude that if we didn’t like our situation then do something to change it or shut up.  That worked for me 5 out of 6 times.   The “Occupy Wall Street” people seem to feel the way  to change the situation is to Protest the circumstances and force someone else to change those circumstances.  Now watch different self interest groups and politicians try to get control of this movement for their own purposes, which of course may or may not be of any help to the protestors.



    From another MNB user:

    Kudos to you. I agree that compassion should be our first reaction.  We have a very serious problem in this country and in the world.  With globalization has come the ability and affordability of corporations to move to where the lowest labor costs are and to reduce salaries to the lowest geographical region.  Improvements in transportation have allowed this to happen.  Capitalism must be regulated or it will not work. All economists agree on this, the amount of regulation is the issue.  With globalization and the elimination of labor unions and lack of them in third world countries the middle class - those making solid money for labor, requiring little if any education, have all but disappeared. Add to this the influx of illegal immigrant labor into low middle income jobs, for example the meat industry, construction and others which then removed even more jobs for less educated laborers that at least paid above minimum wage and you have created a serious problem for America.

    I do not pretend to have the knowledge of economics and logistics and finance to know the answer but it seems to me that it is a fact that the gap between rich and poor is widening and that the middle class is shrinking. When it is gone,  if current laws and regulations remain unchanged the middle class will be gone as a significant portion of America, then who will fund the economy.  It seems to me that we need to have a significant increase middle income jobs whether they be government jobs or jobs created by funds made available from the current excesses in finance and business. I would suggest that if financial companies that produce nothing have billions and billions to fund bonuses then perhaps some of those billions should be taxed (seized if you wish to use that word) and used to fund jobs. $1,000,000,000 would create 20,000 jobs at $50,000 each.  I realize how simplistic this is but it seems that the money is in America and doesn't seem to be doing much good.  

    As to college loans, we should eliminate all loans and provide college education for those who are qualified at no cost if they will spend X years in public service.

    Again - something does need to be done about our government, our businesses and our people.  We need to decide what will be important to the future or our great country.  I completely agree that anyone who is willing to work hard and sacrifice can become wealthy in our current system. But not everyone can.


    Another MNB user chimed in:

    Always enjoy the discussion.  Today in the continuing saga of discussion of what are being portrayed as protesters, I couldn't help getting caught up in the use of the word compassion and an argument that it be the prevailing 'feeling' or connection we should have with these folks.

    When I get hung up on a word like that (Compassion), I tend to look it up.  Here's what Webster's says about compassion: "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering."

    After reading, re-reading and re-reading again the same comments over and over again, I fail to see "misfortune" or "suffering."  Thus, its really hard to have a strong desire to alleviate something where there is no compelling argument that it exists. 

    The argument began with one that was contrary to compassion and then closed with one that pleaded its presence until an succinct argument of misfortune could be articulated.  I'm confused.  It’s not the first time.  In the meantime, I suppose I can have compassion for their suffering from the inability to articulate their undefined suffering.  However, that's hardly being stricken by misfortune or real suffering.


    Another MNB user offered:

    I agree with your position that "Compassion should be our default position." I also agree with the general position taken by most the responses you posted that the protester and all of us, for that matter, need to take personal responsibility for our decisions.

    $60,000 in student loans is a lot of debt. Your ability to repay that debt should have been considered before the debt was amassed. That said, assuming this person started school 4 or more years ago, our current economic situation is very different than it was when they started school. Recent graduates are now competing with a flood of experienced candidates for jobs with lower salaries and fewer benefits. At the same time, the real cost of living (groceries, gasoline, utilities, etc) has increased at historically high rates. This is all exacerbated by the cumulative effects from exporting our manufacturing base and a fair proportion of our service sector.

    It's not the first time in our history that we have been faced with such challenges and it's likely to be difficult for some time but to we need to take a lesson from earlier generations and face these challenges with an entrepreneurial spirit. If we're dissatisfied with our current position, concerned about our future, etc., the question we need to ask ourselves is how can I improve it. It's our ability to create opportunities, when few seem to exist, that has allowed this country to flourish in the past and will assure our prosperity in the future.


    From another reader:

    Don’t whine – are you kidding???  My kids fully expected to pay their loans back.  However, the financial institutions who changed their position on loan repayments are causing enormous difficulties for many college graduates.  Both our sons graduated with lots in student loans to pay back.  For the first son, he was allowed to defer his loan several times until he found a job AND was then allowed to make payments based on his income.   The second son chose the same institution from which to borrow.  Just after he graduated, the rules changed.  He was allowed to defer once then was expected to make full payments each month.  When he contacted the bank to let them know he didn’t make enough money to pay $500 a month, they basically told him to come up with it or they would have to go after the co-signers – you guessed it, the parents!  When he asked the bank if he could pay a little each month, the answer was yes but a late fee would still apply due to the lack of full payment.  Let’s see – with a job making $10/hr – pay rent, eat and have health insurance or pay the student loan – hmmmmmm – what to do, what to do?

    Another MNB user wrote:

    “Compassion should be our default position”……………really ? really ?

    Let me suggest that an overabundance of ‘compassion’ got MOST, (NOT ALL) of these disgruntled youth in the positions they are in.

    Parents who coddled and shielded their children from the realities of adulthood. School teachers who wanted to make everyone ‘feel good’. Relatives building (false) promises of self worth. Parents who told their children all they needed was a college education to live the ‘good’ life. Compassionate parents who told their children to not settle for jobs that will pay the bills but to ‘pursue their passion’ (when they had none in the first place). Reality check: How many students go to college with a career plan???

    These protestors will be the first to tell you that they want your (government) money, not your compassion. That we adults/parents are to blame as we were the ones who inculcated these false hopes and dreams. Now that the ‘protestors’ can’t drain any more money from their parents, they are off the richer feeding grounds. (Most of our legal process is all about finding those with the deepest pockets to sue/attack). Hey, doesn’t everyone have the right to enjoy life like “the rich and famous”.

    My compassion is heartfelt for those who have accepted their responsibilities and DON’T complain. For those who truly want to better themselves though effort and skills that HAVE THE BEST CHANCE of succeeding.. My compassion is heartfelt for our parents and grandparents and the pioneers who TRULY STRUGGLED and pushed on against all odds. The people you would feel compassion for left their jobs to ‘party in a park’ because they could no longer party on campus anymore.

    I think the operative phrase here is “tough love/compassion”.


    From still another MNB user:

    I can only add this to your well explained and thoughtful analysis Kevin......AMEN. Well done and thank you for explaining so well what others thought but could not say as well. I'm amazed in the difference in peoples attitudes when they have a job or don't have a job. Many with a job think the protesters are just lazy people not willing to work. Wrong ! There are so many capable people willing to work if they just had a chance at a job.  Twenty five years ago China was an ancient country. We, America, created jobs for them, today China is a wealthy country because we market all of the products they manufacture and our people here in these United States walk the streets looking for work. I've probably not said this well but I think you get my point.

    The fact is people don't like these protester groups. But, this group of protesters is different this time. Companies in the USA have lowered the wages of workers via " new hire rates " lowering the income of middle income people, yet senior managers like the two fired from Bank Of America two weeks ago that split, I think about 12 million bucks. It just isn't right.


    Yet another MNB user wrote:

    Great opinion about having compassion.  Not all recent college graduates are whiney liberals.  As with most things, people that live sheltered, protected lives eventually have to face up to reality at some point in their lives.  On one hand, I don’t have much sympathy for folks who feel they should be entitled to a stress free life, free health care, etc. without working for it.  But on the other hand, I’ve been the recipient of the backlash of short sighted wall street corporate greed…having been laid off after 18 years even though I had all sorts of corporate awards on the shelf for the major contributions and return on investment that I had made over my career.  Innocent people do get hurt.   However, these are really two separate subjects….a bad economy brought on by mutual corruption in government and private sector……and what I like to call “taking personal responsibility for your life”.   We shouldn’t mix the two up even though one could hypothesize that the lack of personal responsibility is the root of all our current political and socio-economic problems in this country.

    My daughter graduates soon from a state college here in Iowa.  I too graduated during the recession of the early 80’s and I cautioned her to make as many contacts as she could since that is what it took for me to get a job out of college.  It took me six months to find a job.  My wife and I were what Jeff Foxworthy calls “Kraft macaroni and cheese broke” for many years as I climbed the ladder and we raised our kids.  Eventually I made enough money to pay off my loans, buy a house and cars, and all the other stuff we wanted but didn’t really need (computers, cell phones, and now iPhones).  My daughter went to a job fair this week and has ALREADY secured a job.  She served 4 years in the Navy before going to college AND she chose a challenging degree that has application in the world of today.  You see, she had a plan to pay for her college and that plan also helped her stand out from the rest of the crowd for a position.  It speaks LOADS about her character.  The entry level job pays very little but it has a few nice benefits…one of which will be more networking potential to climb that ladder, fully paid health care, and they will help pay her student loans.  So I guess my daughter is proof that young people who are willing to have a plan and goals and work hard to achieve those goals, well, they will do just fine even in a bad economy.  I’ve always asked my kids to think about the consequences of their actions and what they can do now that will benefit them in the future.   It’s nice to see that pay off for them.

    Yes, I’m convinced we need government and private sector reforms to improve the economy of the country.  It’s going to take some serious leadership in government to fix what is broken.  But at the same time, we need to teach the up and coming generations that there is no such thing as a “free lunch”.  We need to teach them to demand LESS government in our businesses, not more.   We need to unleash the entrepreneurs in this country.   There really needs to be less barriers for small business.  And for the unscrupulous who step out of line and break laws….swift and harsh punishment!   Not a spot on TV and the potential for a lucrative book deal later!   Could Steve Jobs or Bill Gates have flourished today?  Try to start a business in your basement and see how fast the local town authorities and jealous neighbors come down on your head!  That’s just not allowed anymore!   And I say that is a shame for America.


    Another MNB user wrote:

    I feel as though it is unfortunate that there is a percentage of readers that will read Goldman Sachs story and still not get “it” or will blow it off as “so what, it’s the company’s right to pay these bonuses”. All they may ever see is what they want to believe and that the American OWS protestors are just whiny people who need a shower.

    Another reader chimed in:

    In your discussion of the Washington Examiner op-ed piece comparing protesters to our Military, you correctly wrote: “And I would respond to this by suggesting that in its own way, this op-ed piece represents the height of cynicism. It suggests that nobody should ever complain about anything, or point out any sort of perceived inequity, because nobody is at risk as much as our troops.”

    However, you committed the same fallacy when justifying Protester anger due to the salaries at Goldman Sachs.  And I would respond to this by suggesting that in its own way, this comment represents the height of cynicism.  It suggests that capitalism is permanently and irreparably flawed because nobody else will make as much as the fortunate few at Goldman Sachs.


    To be honest, I don’t think my comment implied that at all.

    And, from another MNB user:

    The problem with the protesters is it is difficult to find a voice for what they are protesting.  The conservative movement is hilariously referring to them as socialists, when if you really listen to them, they are protesting the socialization of consequences of concentrated wealth.  Wall Street created complex wealth generating devices by scamming the populace into the fantasy of eternally inflating real estate values, and when the fantasy crumbled, the COSTS of their cataclysmic deception were socialized as the government mortgaged the taxpayers’ futures to prop up the institutions that caused the problem—with no return of the ill-gained wealth.

    Conservatives rail against environmental regulation, saying it retards growth, but the energy companies make huge profits while the costs of their production: depleted resources, depleted soil, fouled water, high levels of mercury, heightened levels of asthma are all burdens born by society, socialized costs assumed with no help of profit by the rest of the masses.

    Would I like to be part of the 1%?  You bet, but not at the price of others having to live in and pay for the mess I make getting there.

    To the 1% I would advise that no society with wealth concentrated in the hands of a few has prospered for long.


    From another MNB user:

    I admire your response to your emails about the Occupy Wall Street crowd. The next generation is really going to have some tough choices. I don't envy them.

    Thanks ... and thanks to everyone who weighed in on this subject.

    There is unlikely to be any sort of consensus about this new protest movement, especially because it brings into question issues of politics and culture.

    But let me simply suggest that whether you agree with the protesters or not, it makes more sense to take them seriously, to not diminish their efforts by calling them whiny or spoiled or socialists.

    There are some parallels to the antiwar movement of the mid sixties. It took some time for that movement to get traction, and yet it eventually helped to reshape the country. And it did so with social media, without smart phone, without the Internet - all tools that are likely to help the movement get greater traction faster.

    This will have an impact on our lives and our businesses. Attention must be paid. And they should be taken seriously.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    In game two of the 2011 World Series, the Texas Rangers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1, drawing the best-of-seven series even at one game apiece.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 21, 2011

    Okay, here’s how I feel about the Theo Epstein situation.

    Not that you asked, but I am in a sharing kind of mood.

    As you may know, after the epic collapse of the Boston Red Sox this season, the Red Six decided to part ways with their manager, Terry Francona, and their general manager, Theo Epstein - both of whom were instrumental in the two world championships that the Sox won during the last decade.

    Now, to me the reasons for the departures don’t even make sense. It is certainly possible that Epstein dropped the ball when it came to acquiring the right personnel, and that Francona lost control of the team. I suspect that the reality is far more complicated than that, but it doesn’t really matter - one of the things about these kinds of jobs is that they tend to have an expiration date. People move on.

    Epstein and the Red Sox currently are said to be in negotiations with the Chicago Cubs over the possibility that Epstein will join the Cubs front office. And for those of you who may be unfamiliar with this storied but unlucky franchise, it needs to be pointed out that the Cubs have not won the World Series in 103 years. When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, by comparison, it had been a mere 86 year drought.

    I hope Epstein goes to the Cubs. And I hope, though this does not seem likely, that he brings Francona with him.

    Here’s why.

    I have long said to my won, and anyone else who will listen, that if I were a major league ballplayer, I would move heaven and earth to play for the Cubs. Even if I could make more money elsewhere.

    The thing is, even if the Cubs would pay me less than another team, it is unlikely to be that much less. Even the worst professional baseball players make an awful lot of money. (Trust me on this. Sometimes they all seem to be wearing Mets uniforms.) And the Cubs of 2011, as it happens, had the sixth highest payroll in baseball.

    But the chance - however remote - to be on the Cubs when they wins the World Series? That, to coin a phrase, would be priceless. It would be the opportunity to be part of something historic. To be part of the city’s lore. To really make a difference.

    That would be something.

    I hope that Epstein goes to the Cubs, and then I hope that at least a few free agents decide to do whatever they have to do to go to the Cubs and be part of history.




    I got several food-related emails this week, requesting information about where I’ve been eating during this trip toe Pacific Northwest.

    I’m happy to share.

    But first, let me get one thing out of the way - which is to respond to the email I got asking me to go to legendary Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon, and provide some sort of review.

    To be honest, I don’t eat a lot of doughnuts anymore. However, I am nothing if not responsive to requests from the MNB readership. It is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

    So I went to Voodoo and had chocolate and glazed old fashioned doughnuts.

    And, because I felt it was important to have context and comparisons, when I was in Seattle two days earlier I stopped by Top Pot doughnuts and had the same thing.

    Here’s my verdict: I think Top Pot is far superior.

    Now, doughnuts are a personal thing. But I just found Voodoo’s doughnuts to be way too dense and heavy - I ate two, and I felt like I’d swallowed an anvil.

    Two Top Pot doughnuts, on the other hand, while hardly health food, left me both satisfied and buoyant, and not feeling so in need of a Lipitor chaser.

    So there you have it.

    That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.




    As for my other NW culinary adventures....

    In Seattle, I enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Cuoco, the new Tom Douglas Italian restaurant in South Lake Union, located in the same building as his Brave Horse Tavern (previously raved about in this space). I had an excellent Gnocchi, made with butternut squash dumpling, chanterelle ragu, hazelnut, and sage. (I’ve had a weakness for gnocchi since the first time I had it, after I stumbled into a little hole in the wall restaurant in Venice back in 1979. The waiter took pity on me, served me tons of it with plenty of red wine while teaching me to pronounce the name.) But the thing I really loved at Cuoco was the appetizer - poached eggs served in a spicy tomato sauce, with crispy prosciutto and parmigiano. It was to die for. And the wine, of course, was robust and excellent - the 2006 Villa Travignoli Chianti Rufina "Riserva.”

    My first night down in Portland, I went easy - I went to the Deschutes Brewery in the Pearl District for Happy Hour, and enjoyed a terrific Sloppy Joe and washed it down with a Deschutes Green Lakes Organic Amber Ale. It hit the spot, and I walked back to the hotel with a spring in my step.

    The next night, however, featured an outstanding meal, as a friend took me to a restaurant called Beast, where there are two large communal tables and a set menu - no substitutions, no special requests. And all I can say is...Wow!

    The menu is almost beyond description, but let me just say that the Lobster and Tomato Bisque, served with Tarragon cream was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten my life; and the main course of milk-braised local Sylvies Valley veal breast, stuffed with ground veal, chantrelles and kale, and served with glazed carrots and baby leeks, was magnificent. There were all sort of other little plates coming and going, and, for example, I fell in love with the quail egg served on toast. It was an extraordinary meal, with each course paired with wonderful wines - my favorite probably being the 2009 Ransom Wine Company Cattrell Vineyard Pinot Noir. But they were all fabulous.




    Finally, I have a movie for you to see.

    The Way is a new, independent film starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez, that is well worth your time and attention.

    The plot is simple. Sheen plays a California opthamologist who learns that his son, played by Estevez in flashbacks and dream sequences, has died while making a spiritual pilgrimage along the the Camino de Santiago, a route that takes thousands of people each year - all of whom are seeking some sort of individual peace or revelation - from France to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain

    Sheen’s character, a skeptic/agnostic, goes to France to claim his son’s body. But then, compelled by some need that even he does not understand, Sheen decides to make the pilgrimage himself, to walk the hundreds of miles, carrying his son’s ashes, scattering them along the way, which is a way of honoring his son’s memory and perhaps even understanding this man with whom he’d had a troubled relationship.

    I’m not a spiritual guy, and I’m even less religious. But I found that The Way spoke to me in an unexpectedly profound and even spiritual sense. There is something about watching Sheen’s character evolve from restless discontent into something simpler, something peaceful, even joyous, that I thought was just so unusual for an American film; it was a subject about which I knew nothing in advance, and yet by the end of it, I felt that it was a story that needed to be told. Even though it is just about a guy walking, with no fights, no romance, no explosions, in the end, The Way suggests that the best special effects are the heart and the soul.

    The supporting cast is excellent, the cinematography is beautiful, and the writing manages to be poignant without being maudlin or sentimental. The image that stays with me is of Sheen’s character, gripping the box containing his son’s ashes as if it were life preserver, trudging over mountains and fields, searching for something even he cannot define ... but that, in the end, comes down to a kind of salvation.

    I was moved. I think you may be, too.




    That’s it for this week. Have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday morning.

    Slainte!
    KC's View: